Tuesday, 20 January 2015

REF submissions online

Just before Christmas I posted about the results of the REF2014 exercise, which the British government will use to decide how to allocate research funding to Universities.  

Yesterday, the submissions from each University were added to the REF site, so if you want to put yourself through the same experience as the panel members tasked with reading the judging the submissions, you are now in a position to do so.  Try not to make the server fall over.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Samarium from the stars

Over the Christmas period, I enjoyed time with my family, sharing presents, eating more food than normal, and suchlike.  One of the perks of my job is that the University shuts down between Christmas and new year, and we are not expected to be in the office.  Not so the stakhanovites at the American Physical Society.  They beavered away producing a regular weekly edition of Physical Review Letters, and the edition for the week ending 31st Dec came out as usual, with online articles being populated during the week in question. 

One of the articles in that edition is entitled Isomer Decay Spectroscopy of 164Sm and 166Gd: Midshell Collectivity around N=100.  It may not sound like the catchiest title, but it does the job, and its lead author is none other than University of Surrey PhD student Zena Patel.

The purpose of the work was to explore nuclei in the large unknown region of the nuclear chart - the rather neutron rich isotopes of elements in the middle of the mass range.  Isotopes that only ever exist in nature fleetingly in supernovae or other fast astrophysical processes.  The elements mentioned in the title, Sm = Samarium and Gd = Gadolinium, both exist on the earth, but only in certain isotopic forms.  Samarium has atomic number 62, so the nuclei have 62 protons.  They can in principle have any number of neutrons to help bind the nucleus together, but only certain quantities are sufficiently stable to last long enough to be found on Earth.  The most common isotope is 152Sm (having 90 neutrons because 90+62=152), which is observed to be stable, and 154Sm (92 neutrons) is also observed to be stable.  The isotope made in the experiments described in the paper is 164Sm, with 100 neutrons.  They make it not by trying to add neutrons to lighter isotopes, but by smashing uranium nuclei against a target, causing them to split up, and selecting those cases in which one of the fragments is a isotope of 164Sm.

The fragments are made in highly excited states, which soon decay to their ground state by emitting gamma rays.  Only, sometimes they don't emit those gamma rays quite so quickly, if the nuclei get caught in isomeric states -- states effectively defined as those that don't decay as quickly as you might expect.  The reasons usually translate into details of the structure of those states;  they could be spinning in such a way that makes them a bit more stable, for example.  My colleagues here at Surrey, with their collaborators from around the world, not least at RIKEN in Japan where the experiment took place, deduced from the experiments that having 100 neutrons conferred an extra stability to nuclei in that region corresponding to what we call a "magic" number.  Their results help explain why certain elements are more common than others;  all to do with how nucleosynthesis processes work in stars.  They worked it out not by going to stars and making experiments there, but by going to Japan.

The researchers here at Surrey, with the help of the marketing department, did a good job of writing a press-release that got picked up by a lot of places.  The snapshot attached to this post is from a YouTube channel called DNews, who presented a story about the research.

citation details are below:

Patel, Z., Söderström, P., Podolyák, Z., Regan, P., Walker, P., Watanabe, H., Ideguchi, E., Simpson, G., Liu, H., Nishimura, S., Wu, Q., Xu, F., Browne, F., Doornenbal, P., Lorusso, G., Rice, S., Sinclair, L., Sumikama, T., Wu, J., Xu, Z., Aoi, N., Baba, H., Bello Garrote, F., Benzoni, G., Daido, R., Fang, Y., Fukuda, N., Gey, G., Go, S., Gottardo, A., Inabe, N., Isobe, T., Kameda, D., Kobayashi, K., Kobayashi, M., Komatsubara, T., Kojouharov, I., Kubo, T., Kurz, N., Kuti, I., Li, Z., Matsushita, M., Michimasa, S., Moon, C., Nishibata, H., Nishizuka, I., Odahara, A., Şahin, E., Sakurai, H., Schaffner, H., Suzuki, H., Takeda, H., Tanaka, M., Taprogge, J., Vajta, Z., Yagi, A., & Yokoyama, R. (2014). Isomer Decay Spectroscopy of Sm164 and Gd166: Midshell Collectivity Around N=100 Physical Review Letters, 113 (26) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.113.262502

Friday, 9 January 2015

Reflections on time in Oxford

A friend from my undergraduate days has just written a very thoughtful blog post on his time there.  It's kind of aimed at students who have just discovered they had not got into Oxbridge, and how he rather wishes he hadn't too.  Well worth a read, in my opinion.  I was certainly aware of quite a few people who went to Oxford who would have benefitted from being somewhere else.

The post is here

As ever, I like to include a picture with each post.  I hope Alex won't mind me linking to this one I found by searching for him!

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Rila 2014 proceedings online

Over the Christmas-New Year break, I didn't do much nuclear physics stuff, but while I visited family and friends for the first week and succumbed to illness for the second, the organisers of the Rila Mountain workshop that took place earlier in the year were busy finalising the proceedings.  Their online publication was announced in an email I received on 29th December, so my paper in that proceedings definitely counts as my last 2014 paper.  I'll receive a paper copy of the proceedings in due course, and may wait until then before sitting down with it to remind me of some of the talks.  

The next workshop in the series is 21st-27th June 2015.  This year, I don't think I'll be able to make it.  I've been given dispensation in the past not to attend the final examination board at work, not having had direct involvement with second semester classes involving final examinations over the last couple of years, but now that I am the MPhys Research Year coordinator, being away for the exam board is unlikely to happen.   Too bad - it has always been a good workshop when I've been there, and a nice way to end the academic year.

The picture above is the official conference picture from the website.  I'm the one with a baby on my shoulders.  Click for a bigger image!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

REF for Surrey Physics

As everyone in the UK University world is aware, today is the day that the results of the REF – the "Research Excellence Framework" come out.  The results are used to determine how a hefty pot of University funding is distributed, the so-called QR or Quality-Related funding (as opposed to funding won through specific research grants).  Doing well in the REF is therefore very important if you want to have time funded to spend on research.

At Surrey, Physics did creditably.  25% of our submitted research (in the form of papers, and other evidence of impact of research) was considered 4* or "world-leading", 59% was 3* or "internationally excellent" and 16% was 2* "internationally recognised" with nothing falling into 1* ("nationally recognised") or unclassified.  How this will be turned into funding is not yet clear, but I think that's a good result for us, and a steady improvement on last time.  

I should give due credit to my colleagues who did a vast amount of work preparing the case.  Thanks all.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

MPhys student placement prize

At Surrey, we send our MPhys students away for a year of their studies to perform a research project at an external institution.  This is a bit different to most UK MPhys programmes, and derives from Surrey's history of always sending out its students on traditional sandwich years.

Thanks to the nature of the Physics Department's research strengths and our external research links, quite a proportion of our students go on placements in nuclear physics.  One such student, Tom Dyer, is on placement right now at AWE (the UK's Atomic Weapons Establishment) and got to present his work at a conference (SPIE Security + Defence Conference, Sep 2014).  This is already a great thing for an undergraduate student to be able to do as part of their studies.  That wasn't enough for Tom, though -- he also had to go ahead and win the prize for the best student paper in the "Electro-Optical and Infra-red Systems: Technology and Applications" section.  His work is on using fibre-optic cables to make tamper-indicating enclosures for use in nuclear arms control.  The full paper is available here (though you might need to access it from a IP address inside a subscribing institution - I'm not entirely sure).

Well done, Tom!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Gruesome extracurricular activities

In the past I've reported on some of the successes of Surrey physics students in their academic endeavours.  This time it's the turn of one of our final year undergraduates, George, who won, along with the rest of the band he's in, Joanna Gruesome, this year's Welsh Music Prize, for their first LP, Weird Sister.  They were up against some stiff competition, including the Manic Street Preachers, and ex-Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys.  

Well done George and the rest of the band.  See you in relativity class tomorrow...